STUTTGART, Germany - World No.3 Karolina Pliskova knows the odds are not in her favor now that the tour has turned to clay. But odds were meant to be defied and for the 25-year-old Czech, this could be the season she finds her clay legs.
After a 23-4 run on hardcourts to start the season, including titles at the Brisbane International and Qatar Total Open, Pliskova comes into the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix at No.1 on the Road to Singapore leaderboard. After that run, which surprised even the confident Czech, Pliskova opted out of Fed Cup duties and took two weeks off after the Miami Open to rest.
"Last year obviously was a different schedule and I didn't have [as] many matches in this time as I’m having right now. So, I had to change it. I had some time off at home. I wanted to have one week but I had two weeks because I had surgery [on] my tooth. But I was practicing more than a week, starting here on Thursday. That’s also a big help. So I'm going to have then days on clay already.
"But still here it’s a little bit different. I was practicing outside. Here it’s indoor, the clay is a little bit different. So, not expecting any big results here since it is the first time on the clay, but it’s for everyone the same I guess. I just want to be ready, play my game."
Don't expect to see too many adjustments to Pliskova's big-serving and flat-hitting game on clay. David Kotyza, who coached Petra Kvitova to two Madrid Open titles and a French Open semifinal, has opted not to tinker with Pliskova's game.
Let Karolina be Karolina, as they say.
"The coaches I was having before they were trying to change a bit the game for the clay but he just doesn’t want to change anything. He believes that I still have a good chance on the clay because I have more time for my shots and sometimes when it’s too fast I don’t have the time for pushing and going forward. So, he believes that I have a good chance. Madrid is not really like slow clay. Even Paris, if there is no rain like last year, it can be pretty fast, and this tournament as well."
"I was practicing here two days already and I even hit some aces," Pliskova said with a laugh. "So, hopefully it’s not going to be that bad and that slow. Obviously, I was trying to learn a little bit [more] sliding because it’s almost a year that I didn’t play on clay. So, I was just trying to get a bit used to the movement on clay which is different compared to hard court."
"Obviously we all know I didn’t have that many good results last year on clay. So, I want to improve. It cannot be worse than it was last year. Still, the main goal is going to be Roland Garros, Madrid. So, I have a few tournaments to get used to it."
With World No.1 Serena Williams out for the the remainder of the season due to pregnancy, expect the chatter surrounding Pliskova's potential to become the next No.1 to get louder. In fact, she has a great chance to close the gap during the clay season, where she won just one match total during the stretch between Madrid, rome, and the French Open.
As for the prospect of chasing Kerber down for the top spot, the grounded Czech has preached perspective. "I don’t think she is going to give up this position she is having right now," Pliskova said. "We are still in the beginning. It’s the fourth month of the year, so a lot of things can happen.
"I don't expect that I'm going to play like I was playing the last three, four months. So, definitely there is going to be some down and some worse tournaments and some not really good results. I just want to be ready for it. I think everyone has the chance to get to [No.1]. But I don’t think it’s that easy. But for me, the main goal is good results and not getting to this position."
Stuttgart offers a prime opportunity for Pliskova to keep her hard court momentum going. The indoor court is notoriously quick for a clay court and Pliskova made the quarterfinals last year in her tournament debut. Plus: she has her lucky charm with her in Germany.
"I took my father with me again. One time when we were together I won Doha. So, so far I’m enjoying. I still have two more days to go for practicing and Thursday start for me. So, I’ll be ready for it."
Pliskova will play either CoCo Vandeweghe or Jelena Ostapenko in her opening match.